Sharing is key for bridging divides

Asking questions and listening are skills for being a great bubble-hopper to bridge divides. But our testing the last months has shown it is time to look at another element of a conversation: sharing, which becomes important when we want to bridge differences.

It will never be enough with just asking and listening, you also need to share your own thoughts. Otherwise you become an interrogator, and that does not make for a fruitful conversation.

So, how do you share? If you disagree with someone, research shows it is not a good idea to argue with facts. It is much more effective to tell your own story in a non-judgmental way.

The first skill is therefore story-telling in a non-polarizing way, which is something that we will practice in our future workshops.

What further is important is to sound open-minded and receptive to other people’s points of views. We are usually not so good at judging that in ourselves, so perhaps you want to ask someone else. How do you sound?

However, there are certain elements that you can practice. Try, for example, to:

1) Acknowledge the other person’s perspective. It shows that you have been listening. Repeat what the other person has said in your own words. Ask if you understood it correctly.

2) Look for and emphasize commonalities. Even if you don’t agree on one topic, there are certainly other things you have in common. When you notice a similarity, point it out.

3) Loosen up. Use words such as probably, perhaps, might, etc. Don’t put people into fixed categories. And remember: perhaps you are wrong. Perhaps the other person has a point.

4) Watch out for shame. Try not to be morally superior or condescending. The last thing you want to do is to evoke shame in the other person. Or in yourself.

5) Finally, but most important: show vulnerability. Make sure to admit mistakes and apologize if someone feels hurt by your comments. Be humble. Be a role-model. Use a little bit of self-deprecating humor.

Now you might argue that the same rules do not apply to everyone. That is true. There are, for example, cultural differences in how we communicate. And words are interpreted differently, depending on who utters them. Gender, status, age, there are a lot of things that influence the interpretation.

Communication also goes far beyond words. Perhaps even more important is the tone of your voice, your facial expression, and body posture. Practice and ask for feedback. Have fun. Humor is an underrated part of difficult conversations.

Further readings

Kalla & Broockman (2020). “Reducing Exclusionary Attitudes through Interpersonal Conversation: Evidence from Three Field Experiments”. American Political Science Review, Vol 114 (2), pp 410-425.

Senz, Kristin (2020). “How Leaders Can Navigate Politicized Conversations and Inspire Collaboration”. Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, 28 september.


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